'Suspiria' film review: Intermittently hypnotic, ultimately a boring slog
The most shocking aspect of the supernatural horror flick "Suspiria" (opening in theaters nationwide Nov. 2) isn't the mesmerizing dance sequences or the visceral violence. This atmospheric and stylistic psychological thriller is ... so boring.
In short: Ambitious dancer Susie (Dakota Johnson) leaves Ohio to join a renowned dance company in West Berlin. While Susie aspires to impress the academy's director, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), the company is secretly run by a coven of witches who have sinister plans for Susie.
"Suspiria" is defined by its methodical pacing punctuated by hypnotic sequences with the occasional shocking bit of uber violence. Unfortunately, this storytelling strategy does the film a disservice. The story takes too long to unfold and the characters are too shallow ... ultimately robbing the over-the-top violence of dramatic value.
To the credit of director Luca Guadagnino, the film's intoxicating dance sequences exude an unbridled, animalistic energy. The company surges with an intensity and underlying menace - which wonderfully embodies the zealous and evil nature of the coven. The choreography somehow looks like raw writhing and ritualistic precision. In these moments, "Suspiria" is spellbinding.
Johnson outperforms her relatively thin role. Susie begins as a wide-eyed, naive young woman from Ohio who proves herself a powerful dancer. "Suspiria" is Susie's journey from outsider to enthralled pawn in a coven's larger machinations - but she pretty much disappears from the story during the second act. While other dancers and a suspicious psychologist carry the narrative while Susie sits on the bench, the fact that Susie slips into the background for a significant chunk of the movie doesn't exactly make it easy for the audience to connect with her. And this becomes a major problem and arguably the film's deathblow come the third act. Johnson deserves credit for fleshing out a character with so very little to work with.
Without putting it too mildly, the film's conclusion is gruesome. It's the stuff of nightmares. If the first act is tedious, the finale is a cacophony of viscera and blood. The first two acts feature fleeting if alarming moments - but the finale is a fountain of gore. Without context, the final sequence is beyond disturbing - it's truly horrifying. However, within the context of the story and after the long, painstaking buildup and minimal character development ... the fountain of blood is frustratingly boring. The conclusion of "Suprisia" is a soulless, detached explosion of blood and bone. It's impressive but utterly dull.
The conclusion is disappointingly flat because Susie is a rather shallow character. Virtually all the violence occurs to "characters" who are little more than featured extras - in that they have minimal dialogue. When unspeakable acts happen, it's difficult to care at all because virtually all the victims are glorified background characters. If anything, the only two genuinely empathetic characters (one of Susie's confidants in the company and a psychiatrist who believes the dancers are witches) are supporting players who only really emerge in the second act.
It's understandable (to some extent) if a movie has one-dimensional characters when the runtime is under 90 minutes -- but "Suspiria" is burdened with a runtime that mires the mystery into a slog. The bloated runtime doesn't engender intrigue - rather, it just frustrates with a smattering of plot points spread out over a prolonged runtime. The final insult is the "epilogue," which manages to defang the violent finale with some unintentionally silliness and doesn't add to Susie's story at all - it just wraps up a secondary character's b-plot.
Final verdict: For a two-and-a-half hour film, the characters and the utterly insane ending should mean more to the audience.
"Suspiria" opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 2. This supernatural horror mystery has a running time of 152 minutes and is rated R for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references.